What to Know About This Crazily Crowded Broadway Spring Season

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Is Broadway facing a bonanza or a blood bath?

The next two months are jam-packed with new productions — 18 are scheduled to open in March and April — while the industry is still struggling to adapt to the new, and more challenging, realities of a postpandemic theater era.

For potential ticket buyers, there will be a dizzying array of options. In early April, about 38 shows should be running on Broadway (the exact number depends on unexpected closings or openings between now and then).

“From a consumer point of view, we’re excited about the amount of choice there is on Broadway,” said Deeksha Gaur, the executive director of TDF, the nonprofit that runs the discount TKTS booths. Anticipating that bewildered tourists will need help figuring out what shows to see, TDF is already dispatching red-jacketed staffers to preview performances and updating a sprawling cheat sheet as the employees brace for questions on what the new shows are about and who is in them.

But the density of late-season openings — 11 plays and musicals over a nine-day stretch in late April — has producers and investors worried about how those shows will find enough ticket buyers to survive.

“On the one hand, how incredible that our industry perseveres, and that there is so much new work on Broadway,” said Rachel Sussman, one of the lead producers of “Suffs,” a musical about women’s suffrage that is opening in mid-April.

“On the other hand,” Sussman added, “we’re still recovering from the pandemic, and audiences are not back in full force, so there is industrywide anxiety about whether we have the audience to sustain all of these shows. It’s one of those things that only time will tell.”

Here are some answers to questions about the spring season.

Looking for a favorite pop sound? Alicia Keys is offering “Hell’s Kitchen,” Huey Lewis has “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” and the Who is represented with a revival of that band’s rock classic, “Tommy.” There’s even a fictional behind-the-music play, “Stereophonic,” that blends songs from an Arcade Fire alum with narrative echoes of Fleetwood Mac.

Love literature? Try musical adaptations of “The Great Gatsby,” “The Notebook,” “The Outsiders” and “Water for Elephants.”

History buffs might consider “Suffs,” which explores the battle over allowing women to vote, or “Lempicka,” about an artistically and sexually adventurous painter whose life was buffeted by 20th-century geopolitics. Those interested in more recent events might check out “Patriots,” an eerily timely play about the untimely death of a Putin critic.

And for those who want old-fashioned musical theater merriment, “The Wiz” is a new version of the 1975 musical reimagining “The Wizard of Oz,” visiting New York following a tour of 13 American cities.

(And those are just the new productions on Broadway, which come in addition to the shows that are already open. There is also a raft of shows opening Off Broadway this spring — generally with different economic models, because most of those venues are nonprofits, whereas most Broadway productions are commercial. But all of them still need to find audiences.)

You know how many of the best movies open late in the year, just before the deadline to qualify for the Academy Awards? The same thing happens on Broadway, following a different calendar: This year’s deadline to qualify for the Tony Awards is April 25, and that’s why the openings are clustered just before that date.

The Tony nominations are to be announced on April 30, and the ceremony is scheduled for June 16. Producers believe that being part of the Tony conversation, with the attendant news coverage and social media attention, helps them sell tickets. Many also believe that it helps to open near the eligibility deadline because then their shows are fresh in the minds of Tony nominators and voters.

Another factor: Summer, when New York swells with tourists, is often a lucrative season for Broadway. Shows that open in the fall have to hang on for a long time to benefit from that summer traffic, while shows that open in the spring do not.

How strong is the penchant for spring openings? The 2023-24 Broadway season is expected to feature 35 Tony-eligible plays and musicals; more than half (18) are expected to open in the final two months of the 12-month season.

What’s happening this year is a version of what happens every year — a lot of shows open in April, and a lot of industry insiders express concern.

“It is crazy, but it is also seasonal craziness — every year we say more shows than ever are opening in the spring, and then sometime between July 15 and Labor Day we say more shows are closing than ever before,” said Brian Fenty, the chief executive of TodayTix, a mobile ticketing app. “Within a show or two, it’s pretty standard.”

This year’s April openings do seem to be a touch more densely concentrated in the final days of the eligibility period. Adam Feldman, chief theater critic at Time Out New York, did a statistical analysis of openings over time, and concluded that yes, the seasons are getting more bottom-heavy. This year, two dates even have two openings each — a violation of traditional Broadway etiquette, although not unprecedented.

“It’s horrible — it just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on publicists, journalists, photographers and the public,” said Carole Rothman, the president and artistic director of Second Stage Theater, which is opening Paula Vogel’s “Mother Play” on the final day of the eligibility period, the same day that “The Great Gatsby” is opening. “The question is what does this mean in terms of visibility — how do you get attention for all those plays opening in a very short period of time?” she said. “And who is going to have time to build word of mouth? Especially for musicals, it’s going to be tough.”

The conventional wisdom is that the crush of openings creates an enormous marketing challenge at a time when it is already unclear how best to reach potential ticket buyers.

“It’s hard to stand out and get attention when there’s an opening every single night,” said John Johnson, a lead producer of “Stereophonic” and an executive producer of “Lempicka.” “Whether it’s your reviews, your advertising, or the award season, there’s just going to be so much noise created in April.”

Not really.

There are certainly reasons for cheer. The large number of openings is a reminder that, contrary to some of the most pessimistic predictions made at the height of the pandemic, a ton of shows are in the pipeline as well as investors who profess to being willing and able to finance them.

But total attendance thus far this season is 16 percent below where it was at the same point in 2020, and total box office grosses are down 15 percent.

The persistence of hybrid work means there are still fewer commuters looking for entertainment in Midtown after hours, and the rising costs of production make it harder for shows to achieve profitability.

The postpandemic Broadway audience is younger and more diverse than it had been before the pandemic, and that’s a positive development for an industry that is concerned about its audience demographics. But one reason for the shift is that, even as tourism rebounds, suburban theatergoers have not returned in significant numbers.

“It’s not a secret that we’re still missing a core part of our audience,” said the producer Sue Frost, who is not opening a show this spring, but instead is focusing on managing global productions of “Come From Away.”

Broadway has long been a brutal business, in which far more shows fail than succeed, and this season has been rough, especially for new musicals. Four of the six new musicals to open thus far have already closed as financial flops, including “Once Upon a One More Time,” “Here Lies Love,” “Harmony” and “How to Dance in Ohio.” And producers of a planned one-person comedic play, “My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?),” took a look at the crowded spring and reconsidered their plans, announcing less than three weeks before previews were to begin that they were postponing its run.

On the other hand, the season has been decent for plays and musical revivals — among the success stories so far are “Merrily We Roll Along,” which is a big hit; “Gutenberg! The Musical!,” which recouped its costs just before ending its run; and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play, “Appropriate,” which has been selling so well at a nonprofit Broadway house that a group of commercial producers is planning to move it to a for-profit house and extend its run.

There is a 60-member Tony nominating committee, made up almost entirely of theater artists who are expected to see every Tony-eligible show. And they are expected to see all those shows before they vote on the nominations; if they miss a show, they have to recuse themselves.

Nominators say they are used to an April scramble, but this year will be unusually challenging.

“When I saw the list of confirmed announcements, I was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s a lot!” said Kamilah Forbes, a Tony nominator and the executive producer of the Apollo Theater. Forbes said there will be a period in April when she will see a show every night.

“Look, I’m always for more art,” she said. “You just hope each show is able to find their audience.”

Pun Bandhu, an actor who is also a Tony nominator, said he has had to turn down work to make sure he could see all the shows before the nominators gather to vote.

“You basically have to clear your calendar,” he said. “I see being a nominator as a big responsibility and an honor, so I do what’s necessary, and obviously I love theater. But I’m also happy this is my last year.”

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